I discussed the recent controversy over Bill Maher’s irresponsible use of the “n word”, or specifically-his declaration that he was a “house n$$$a”, with a friend. My friend brought up an interesting point of which I will paraphrase: Maher is widely renowned for his far left views and often criticizes others for what they say and do; now Maher has found himself in the infamous hot seat.
This conversation prompted me to share my opinion on the matter. I have previously written about my position on the use of the “n word” in this blog; please refer back to that post if you are so inclined to know where I stand. And I recently posted on a subject that I refer to as “reverse hypocrisy.” This post is a little bit about both.
Instead of making a sanitized apology, which really accomplishes nothing and has no sentimental value whatsoever (or least to me), Maher should actually capitalize on this unique opportunity he has been given so to speak. The opportunity is to bridge gaps between his supporters and those who oppose his viewpoints, with honest dialogue and sincere transparency. Bill, stand up in front of your studio audience and millions of viewers and acknowledge that you made an error in judgement. Keep it real and acknowledge that you callously used a word or term that you are well aware is historically vile and hurtful to many. Own that you have had a field day in the past capitalizing on the transgressions of others. And now here you are similarly situated in many ways. Acknowledge that you may have been wrong about some things (not everything or everyone), but you recognize that it’s not easy being a defendant in the court of public opinion. Especially when you stand to lose millions if HBO decides to cave and cancels your show.
In “real time”, stand there proverbial hat in and hand and admit that you were doing late night cable TV; that you were appealing to “your people” (or those who you think are your people.) You can even add that you use the word freely around your friends who are PoC (People of Color) without incident or retribution, and therefore ignorantly thought it was okay to use it publicly.
I also need you to decide whether you are a journalist or stand-up comedian. If you decide that you are a journalist you are bound by a seemingly forgotten code of ethics and moral conduct; one in which you accept accountability for what you say and you say nothing unless it is credible or factual. If you are comedian; carry on and be that. Feel free to continue making jokes about news headlines; politicians, celebrities, athletes, public figures, etc. We are living in perilous times that require a demarcation between so called “fake news”, entertainment, gossip, OpEds (like this blog), and special interests groups. Remember Bill, a journalist reports the story; he or she never becomes a part of the story. Please get the latter point if nothing else. Please.
I also need you to be a part of the solution versus stirring a pot already boiling over with problems. You can’t make jokes and chastise the president, if you are engaging in similar conduct (as an example.) And yes, I am well aware that there is a fundamental difference between the POTUS and a late night stand-up comedian. I also know many of our societal rules are evolving…but when do two wrongs make anyone right?
So back to you Bill-you take these 15 minutes in the hot seat and acknowledge all of the others who have been in the hot seat before you. Sometimes words are taken out of context. Right? Not always but maybe sometimes? And sometimes otherwise good people make legitimate mistakes. Like you may want us to believe about your faux pas.
It would behoove us all to be mindful that we live in an era where being politically & socially “correct” or “responsible” has become the new golden standard. I presume as a society we must feel that we have historically gotten so many things wrong that we need to be universally “right.” With so many among us having the sincerely held belief that they have been wronged, we all have taken the mantra of “we’re not going to take it anymore!” Thus, in an effort to do everything “right” or “responsibly”, this has created a new subculture that feels comfortable publicly admonishing anyone who thinks or lives differently.
This perception which also happens to be the only reality any individual can speak to credibly, seems to have given birth to a new wave of silos versus community or inclusion. On certain social issues there is a prevalence of an intrusive expectation to accept all individual choices, regardless of whether you agree with them or not. There is a fundamental difference and protected right to choose whether or not to accept another’s viewpoint or values. As a responsible adult, I should however-at least attempt to respect the individual rights of others so long as those rights do not infringe upon me and my right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Getting back to the original topic that is the backlash that Bill Maher is contending with. Is he a racist? I don’t know; I don’t know him personally or anyone who does. I watched the majority of the episode in question and did not notice any racial or derogatory undertones during the remainder of the show. Which begs the question why did he use the term in the first place…nonetheless, he did.
My final point is this…by diluting what racism and bigotry really means causes us as a society to become immuned to real human suffering. I would prefer a serious term such as racism-not be thrown around irresponsibly, given the magnitude and gravity of this belief system. In addition to our country’s history around race. An off color remark may be a simple proclamation of either ignorance, stupidity, or indifference on behalf of the so-called “bad actor.” It is not illegal to be poorly educated, misguided, or even prejudice. I am not suggesting that Maher falls into any of the referenced categories.
It is reprehensible to feel superior over another and take actionable steps to disenfranchise, oppress or marginalize a group of people based on race or other discriminatory factors. In doing so, the matter quickly shifts from personal preferences or so called “free speech”, to possible malicious intent if one intentionally promotes a climate of divisiveness, fear, and hate that could be used as an accelerant for more egregious behavior. Or, if in the name of racism, one takes active measures to impede the upward mobility or access to the laws protected by the United States Constitution. Such examples of oppression or racism, warrant a prompt civil and legal response, particularly when someone is harmed solely on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, color, national origin, social/economic status, or sexual orientation.
It is imperative that we all do our part and understand the difference between perceived and real threats against humanity and overall democracy. We must also be willing to be the difference in our own life, world, and affairs while considering the same as it relates to the rights and feelings of others.